Idaho’s college go-on rate dips below 50 percent

The percentage of Idaho students continuing their education after high school has dropped for the second year in a row.

According to data reviewed Wednesday by the State Board of Education, the rate of Idaho students who go on within one year of high school graduation dropped by 6 percentage points in 2015 — the most recent year for which data is available.

According to the state’s high school feedback report, the one-year, go-on rate dropped from 52 percent to 46 percent between 2014 and 2015.

The rate also dropped between 2013 and 2014, when the go-on rate slid from 54 percent to 52 percent.

The go-on rate is important because it relates to the state’s flagship goal for education. By 2020, the state wants 60 percent of its young adults to hold a post secondary degree or certificate. That 60 percent goal was based on a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study and has been adopted or embraced by the State Board, the Legislature, Gov. Butch Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Richard Westerberg
Richard Westerberg

State Board member Richard Westerberg expressed frustration with the declining go-on rate. Westerberg said one of the state’s major strategies for increasing the go-on rate was making more college courses available to high school students. Westerberg hoped that the expansion of so-called “dual credit” courses would make college more affordable, give students a jumpstart on their postsecondary career and give students a confidence boost by completing college-level work.

“We all thought intuitively that if we got really good at that we could affect go-on rates,” Westerberg said. “But, at least in the short term, it doesn’t seem to be having much effect at all.”

Nobody explained why the rate dropped so dramatically between 2013 and 2015 — despite all the attention, effort and funding investment in go-on programs and dual credit courses.

State Board President Emma Atchley guessed that it had to do with Idaho’s unemployment rate.

“We were approaching maximum employment,” Atchley said. “I don’t think anybody couldn’t find a job.”

For August, the Idaho Department of Labor reported the Gem State’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, with 31,000 Idahoans without work. In August 2015, the rate was 4.1 percent.

One factor is clear. Young men don’t continue their education at nearly the same rate as young women. State Board research director Carson Howell told board members that Idaho’s young women go on at a median rate 13 percent higher than young men.

For four years, Idaho’s one-year go-on rate was fairly stable, holding between 52 and 54 percent. But in 2015 the narrative changed from a majority of students going on to college to a majority of students not going on.

Howell and board members are hoping Idaho’s new direct admission program for in-state public colleges and universities will have a positive effect on the go-on rate in the future.

For the past three years, education groups and business leaders have been warning that Idaho may fall short of its 60 percent goal.

When asked about progress toward the goal Wednesday, Howell told board members that the answer is complicated. The goal relates to Idaho residents who will be between 25 and 34 years old in 2020, regardless of where they obtained their education. Therefore, Idaho students who earn degrees but move out of state before 2020 to accept better-paying jobs also drive the rate down. Likewise, the education attainment of young adults moving into Idaho will also affect the rate.

However, Idaho could benefit from more residents earning more degrees.

“We are not having enough educated people in that cohort that we are looking at,” Howell said. “We definitely could benefit from greater degree production for sure.”

News of the decreasing go-on rate comes just days after Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra applauded a 1.6 percentage point increase in the state’s high school graduation rate. Idaho’s high school graduation rate now stands at 78.9 percent, ranking below the national average of 83.2 percent.